Johnstown Independent

'Very close community'

Johnstown continues grieving, processing fatal crash


A June 26 car accident that killed three teens and left two others injured likely will be on the minds of many in the community for a long time, according to a Johnstown-Monroe High School psychologist and counselor.

Now the work begins to determine the traumatic impact on other students.

Five teens who at one time attended Johnstown-Monroe schools were in a single-car accident in the early afternoon June 26. A Mitsubishi Diamante driven by Jaylynn Rigio, 16, crashed top first into a large tree, splitting the car in two and killing three passengers in the back seat: Michael Hoskinson, 17, and 15-year-olds Cheyenne Spurgeon and Linzie Bell.

Rigio and front-seat passenger Ashton Cody, 16, survived.

No students attended a June 27 session at the high school that was meant to provide an opportunity to talk and grieve, but high school counselor Debbie Merrill said she wasn't surprised.

"Unfortunately, because it's summer break, we haven't had a ton of contact with the kids," Merrill said. "I kind of expected not to see a bunch of students because we're on summer break.

"I don't want to say I'm disappointed. As long as kids are OK and processing in a healthy manner, I'm OK with them not reaching out to us."

Despite the no-show, school psychologist Alex Pavlik said, the students will feel the effects of the incident, regardless of whether they come forward.

"The incident will be very traumatizing for students, especially those who knew the students who passed, and especially for the families," Pavlik said.

"For the district, the priority is identifying students who will be most emotionally impacted by what has gone on and make sure we're meeting their needs the best we can."

Pavlik said thoughts like, "Why did this happen to my family?" or "Why did this happen to my friends?" would be common among the Johnstown community, and she knows many still could be in shock.

"It's tragic because these students were so young and had so much life to live," she said. "That's one of the saddest parts of the situation."

She also said seeing photos or video of the mangled car could be harsh even for those who weren't involved or who didn't know the teens.

"I'm wondering, too, if the situation with the papers coming out, if kids will be traumatized by seeing what happened with their friends," Pavlik said. "When you didn't experience a traumatic event yourself but you watch something on TV or see a picture of it, it can emotionally impact you the same way as a person who has seen it directly."

Merrill said another reason she wasn't overly concerned about the lack of students asking for help is that she knows how tight-knit the Johnstown community is.

"I think part of it, being in Johnstown, they're already a very close community," she said. "I think they're responding in a way you can expect them to. They're grieving together, processing together, and that's to be expected."

Merrill said, among other community fundraisers, the city charged $5 to watch Fourth of July fireworks at Johnstown's football field, with proceeds going to the families of the accident victims.